The stem cell research team led by Hwang Woo-suk failed to inform human egg donors properly about the health risks involved in the donations, the National Bioethics Commission said yesterday in its first briefing to the press on its work. In the most disturbing case, a donor underwent the procedure to remove some of her eggs four times, the commission said, and a significant number of the donors developed medical problems because of their donations.
The commission criticized four hospitals, including MizMedi Hospital in Seoul, along with Dr. Hwang. It said that in 2003 and 2004, about 20 percent of those donors developed a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome because of the egg harvesting, which uses medication to induce the release of eggs from a woman¡¯s ovaries. The syndrome, the commission said, could be life-threatening in some cases.
It said the Ministry of Health is now investigating the four hospitals and that the commission would recommend a criminal investigation by prosecutors if its conclusions were upheld.
The panel also cited Seoul National University¡¯s College of Veterinary Medicine and Hanyang University, where some of Dr. Hwang¡¯s research team are faculty members, for lax oversight of the research.
Earlier, Dr. Hwang had admitted to paying some egg donors, handing egg donation consent forms to some of his researchers and accompanying one of them to a hospital where she donated some of her ova.
The commission said that despite the lack of any formal legal prohibition on these and other actions by the team at the time of the donations, they were violations of medical ethics. After Korea¡¯s biological ethics law went into effect at the beginning of last year, the commission said, the researchers appeared to have abided by its standards.
The commission will make its next report on its findings on Jan. 26, it announced.
Seoul National University said it would refer all the members of its faculty on the research team, seven including Dr. Hwang, to a university disciplinary committee for action. The other six were co-authors of the two research papers, now retracted, that were published in 2004 and 2005. The university asked for written statements from the seven before a hearing tentatively scheduled for late next week. It said a final determination would be made in mid-February.
¡°We have enough grounds to punish them based on the university review panel¡¯s findings,¡± said Byun Chang-ku, the dean of academic affairs, ¡°and we will also refer to the prosecutors¡¯ investigation.¡±
In a rare bureaucratic collaboration, the Board of Audit and Inspection and Korea¡¯s prosecutors said yesterday that they would join forces to examine whether the Hwang team had misappropriated government research funds.
Yesterday, prosecutors raided six more homes and laboratories and banned another 17 people from leaving the country. The travel bans in connection with this case now total 28.
by Ser Myo-ja, Park Sung-woo for JoongAng Daily